WASHINGTON - A former Navy reservist went on a shooting rampage Monday inside a building at the heavily secured Washington Navy Yard, firing from a balcony onto office workers in the cafeteria below, authorities and witnesses said. Thirteen people were killed, including the gunman.
Investigators released the names of seven of the 12 victims killed at a new conference late Monday night. They are as follows:
— 59-year-old Michael Arnold
— 53-year-old Sylvia Frasier
— 62-year-old Kathy Gaarde
— 73-year-old John Roger Johnson
— 50-year-old Frank Kohler
— 46-year-old Kenneth Bernard Proctor
— 61-year-old Vishnu Pandit
Monday's onslaught at a single building at the highly secure Navy Yard unfolded about 8:20 a.m. in the heart of the nation's capital, less than four miles from the White House and two miles from the Capitol.
It put all of Washington on edge. Mayor Vincent Gray said there was no indication it was a terrorist attack, but he added that the possibility had not been ruled out.
"This is a horrific tragedy," he said.
Alexis carried three weapons: an AR-15 assault rifle, a shotgun, and a handgun that he took from a police officer at the scene, according to two federal law enforcement officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the investigation. The AR-15 is the same type of rifle used in last year's mass shooting at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school that killed 20 students and six women. The weapon was also used in the shooting at a Colorado movie theater that killed 12 and wounded 70.
For much of the day, authorities said they were looking for a possible second attacker who may have been disguised in an olive-drab military-style uniform. But by late Monday night, they said they were convinced the shooting was the work of a lone gunman, and the lockdown around the area was eased.
"We do now feel comfortable that we have the single and sole person responsible for the loss of life inside the base today," Washington police Chief Cathy Lanier said.
It was the deadliest shooting rampage at a U.S.-based military installation since Maj. Nidal Hasan killed 13 people and wounded more than 30 others in 2009 at Fort Hood in Texas. He was convicted last month and sentenced to death.
President Barack Obama lamented yet another mass shooting in the U.S. that he said took the lives of American patriots. He promised to make sure "whoever carried out this cowardly act is held responsible."
The FBI took charge of the investigation and identified the gunman killed in the attack as 34-year-old Aaron Alexis of Texas. He died after a running gunbattle with police, investigators said.
Authorities were investigating how he got onto the base. Officials said he may have had a badge that allowed access.
At the time of the rampage, he was working in information technology with a company that was a Defense Department subcontractor.
Alexis was a full-time Navy reservist from 2007 to early 2011, leaving as a petty officer third class, the Navy said. It did not say why he left. He had been an aviation electrician's mate with a unit in Fort Worth, Texas.
In addition to those killed, more than a dozen people were hurt, including a police officer and two female civilians who were shot and wounded. They were all expected to survive.
The Navy Yard shooting is having an impact on Dobbins Air Reserve Base in metro Atlanta.
Lt. Colonel James Wilson told Channel 2's Tony Thomas one of his first calls he made Monday morning was to the Navy Yard and his fellow Georgia reservist who just took a
full-time job there.
"He works in our building, so I know him quite well," Wilson said.
"What did you hear from him?" Thomas asked.
"Just that things were very chaotic as you may imagine, and that security was very high," Wilson said.
His friend was unharmed, but with the uncertainty of what is behind the attack, Dobbins commanders are keeping a close eye on the implications.
More than 1,000 Navy personnel are based at Dobbins as part of an operations support center, part of some 2,500 enlisted and civilian personnel on base every day, in addition to contractors who come and go as needed.
"We train for this type of attack locally all the time, the threat is out there. It is very real," Wilson said.
Brent Brown, of Chesley Brown Companies Inc., runs a security and tactical firm for businesses worldwide. He told Thomas he wasn't surprised when he learned the FBI said Alexis was a navy contractor.
Brown said his company launched its Smyrna command center for several hours Monday after hearing about the shootings.
"The first thing that comes to mind is he probably had credentials to come on the base, which made it easy to get on board without much scrutiny," Brown said. "It proves that even the most heightened security can be breached."
The military wouldn't talk about any security changes at Dobbins specifically on Monday, but Brown said they've got to be worried and responding.
"I promise you what's going on at Dobbins and Clay right now are probably blowing their budgets like crazy just because they are responding to what's happening in
D.C.," Brown said.
At the time of the shootings, he worked for The Experts, a subcontractor on an HP Enterprise Services contract to refresh equipment used on the Navy Marine Corps Intranet network.
Alexis' life over the past decade has been checkered.
He lived in Seattle in 2004 and 2005, according to public documents. In 2004, Seattle police said, Alexis was arrested in 2004 for shooting out the tires of another man's vehicle in what he later described to detectives as an anger-fueled "blackout." According to an account on the department's website, two construction workers had parked their Honda Accord in the driveway of their worksite, next to a home where Alexis was staying. The workers reported seeing a man, later identified by police as Alexis, walk out of the home next to their worksite, pull a gun from his waistband and fire three shots into the rear tires of their Honda before he walked slowly back to his home.
When detectives interviewed workers at the construction site, they told police Alexis had stared at construction workers at the job site daily for several weeks prior to the shooting. The owner of the construction business told police he believed Alexis was angry over the parking situation around the site.
Police eventually arrested Alexis, searched his home, found a gun and ammunition in his room, and booked him into the King County Jail for malicious mischief.
According to the police account, Alexis told detectives he perceived he had been "mocked" by construction workers the morning of the incident. Alexis also claimed he had an anger-fueled "blackout," and could not remember firing his gun at the Honda until an hour after the incident.
Alexis also told police he was present during "the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001" and described "how those events had disturbed him."
Then, on May 5, 2007, he enlisted in the Navy reserves, serving through 2011, according to Navy spokeswoman Lt. Megan Shutka.
Shutka said he received the National Defense Service Medal and the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal during his stint in the reserves. Both are medals issued to large numbers of service members who served abroad and in the United States since the 9/11 attacks. Alexis' last assignment was as aviation electricians mate 3rd class at the Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base in Fort Worth, Shutka said.
It was while he was still in the reserves that a neighbor in Fort Worth reported she had been nearly struck by a bullet shot from his downstairs apartment.
In September 2010, Fort Worth police questioned Alexis about the neighbor's report; he admitted to firing his weapon but said he was cleaning his gun when it accidentally discharged. He said he didn't call the police because he didn't think the bullet went through to the other apartment. The neighbor told police she was scared of Alexis and felt he fired intentionally because he had complained about her making too much noise.
Alexis was arrested on suspicion of discharging a firearm within city limits but Tarrant County district attorney's spokeswoman Melody McDonald Lanier said the case was not pursued after it was determined the gun discharged accidentally.
After leaving the reserves, Alexis worked as a waiter and delivery driver at the Happy Bowl Thai restaurant in White Settlement, a suburb of Fort Worth, according to Afton Bradley, a former co-worker. The two overlapped for about eight months before Alexis left in May, Bradley said.
Having traveled to Thailand, Alexis learned some Thai and could speak to Thai customers in their native language.
"He was a very nice person," Bradley said in a phone interview. "It kind of blows my mind away. I wouldn't think anything bad at all."
A former acquaintance, Oui Suthametewakul, said Alexis lived with him and his wife from August 2012 to May 2013 in Fort Worth, but that they had to part ways because he wasn't paying his bills. Alexis was a "nice guy," Suthametewakul said, though he sometimes carried a gun and would frequently complain about being the victim of discrimination.
Suthametewakul said Alexis had converted to Buddhism and was prayed at a local Buddhist temple.
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, which offers online courses in aviation and aerospace, confirmed that Alexis was enrolled as an online student via its Fort Worth campus, started classes in July 2012 and pursuing a bachelor's of science in aeronautics.
"We are cooperating fully with investigating officials," the university said.